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Earthsong: An Environmental Celebration through Tap Dance

Shiriel Abramson
Jul 16 2019

Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve. Photo credit: David Tattoni   


By Shiriel Abramson

Hometown: Tiburon, CA
Summer Research Assistant, Bill Lane Center for the American West

Out West Student Blog

Student Blog



I am spending the summer choreographing a four-part suite of tap dances that captures the sonic richness of the natural elements––earth, air, fire, and water. The suite will celebrate the natural environment by simulating, interpreting, and riffing on the sounds of the Stanford campus and the surrounding area. By physicalizing environmental phenomena, I hope to illuminate patterns of nature in the West that often go unnoticed in daily life. By embodying the joyfulness with which humans can connect to the environment, I hope to provide an antidote to cynical reports of climate change that inadvertently absolve humans of their responsibility to act. My performance thus aims to offer a counternarrative to incessant media messaging that casts the environment as a helpless victim of overconsumption. As I ground my piece in Bay Area sonic landscapes, I hope to capitalize on the power of locality to engage my audience in processing their existing associations with the region through a more hopeful lens.


My creative approach follows a two-part process. First, I plan to record sounds of the environment and edit them into a sound score. I plan to visit the Dish, Lake Lag, and Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, among other local trails. Second, I will improvise with the sound score, and use insights from those improvisations to craft choreography. As I record and choreograph, I will take note of observations and discoveries. I will narrate this progress through blog posts that feature snippets of sound and choreography. I plan to perform the suite on campus in the fall.


It was a treat to visit Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve one afternoon to record sounds. This hidden gem on Stanford’s campus offered a wealth of sonic textures in addition to sweeping visual beauty. A fellow independent researcher, David Tattoni, guided my hike, identifying birds by their calls and pointing out interesting natural phenomena. It was a boon to my own sound travels to reap the knowledge of a budding expert on local neotropical birds. David offered context to the variation in tones and rhythms of the fauna. Among other calls, I heard Steller’s Jays, Lesser Goldfinches, and Wrentits. I also heard the buzz of swarming insects, and the quiet rush of a running stream. In my sound score, I want to parcel out earth from wind from water from fire to capture the spirit of the four natural elements. This hike revealed how human-made categories don’t match the porous boundaries of the natural world.


Also of note was the occasional hum of an airplane motor, and the crackle of feet crunching leaves. In my own project, I want to highlight the natural sounds that often go unnoticed in our everyday lives as Bay Area residents. It’s easy to tune out car sounds, beeps, and other technological whizzing. These sound bites are the backdrop to our industrialized world. And yet, as I ventured to one of the Bay Area’s most secluded oases, I wondered about the potential to truly separate natural processes from our human activity. At Jasper Ridge, there was rarely a moment of “pure” nature sound. This preserve is open only to researchers over the summer; one might think it lies far beyond the realm of human damage. But the periodic hum of an overhead plane reminded me that our Anthropocene era has left no stone uncovered, no soundscape unpierced. As I begin to craft a sound score, I am thinking about how to include subtle critique of our far-reaching human impact on the environment –– without overwhelming the larger message about the rich, sonic beauty of the natural world, and our possibilities for joyful collaboration with it.



Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve. Photo credit: David Tattoni

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